Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Christmas stocking cookies

For far too many years I thought buying gifts was the way to go, but the lights have come on ("at last" my hubby would say) and the thoughtfulness of making a gift far outweighs anything shop bought.

Mama and Bumps never bought me gifts.  They made me gifts.  How I wish I could go back in time and show more appreciation for my home made treats, or beautiful old books passed down to me with hand stitched covers.  I still have my sewing basket Mama made me.  It is adorned with hand made raffeta flowers and inside it lies an envelope of needles -untouched and treasured.

Bumps used to give me "driving lesson vouchers" - see cowpat blog... or a box of pellets and permission to use the pellet gun - under supervision of course.  He would draw funny faces on over ripe paw paws and we would spend hours at the bottom of the garden - far away from Mama's sight and earshot, shooting the hell out of paw paw faces.
Me, Mama and my Daddy
In my stocking on Christmas morning I would find a pretty package of delicious butter biscuits, painstakingly decorated with assorted colour icing and little silver balls.  These biscuits came in all shapes, but my favorite ones were the white kitty biscuits with little ribbons tied around each neck and silver balls for eyes.

Now that I am older, I cherish the time it took to make these gifts.  Not just any old batch of cookies bunged in the oven and placed in a cellophane bag, but each biscuit a treasure on its own.  Each one carefully decorated, every dot of icing specially thought out and each perfectly tied bow showing how much I was loved. 

That is what made my two very special Christmas with Mama and Bumps so wonderful and unforgettable - their time, effort and genuine love for me shown in every action.

Mama's Christmas biscuits

What you need: (makes 10 kitty biscuits so double as needed)
  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • A good pinch of salt
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 100 grams cold butter
To ice:
  • Icing sugar and assorted food colourants
  • A little water
  • Thin ribbons, silver balls, 100's & 1000's, anything you like!
  • Box or gift bag to wrap them in
How to make:
  • Sift the flour, icing sugar, baking powder and salt twice.
  • Cut in the butter using a butter knife as your hands will warm the mixture too much.
  • Pour in the milk a little at a time because you want a stiff dough not a sloppy one.
  • As soon as you have a nice ball of dough, roll out using a rolling pin till about 5cm thick.
  • Try to handle the dough as little as possible.
  • Use your choice of cookie cutter and cut out shapes.
  • Place on a greased biscuit tray and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes on 180 degrees until a pale golden colour.  Take out of oven and let cool.
To make the icing:
  • In separate bowls make up batches of icing using icing sugar, food colourant and tiny amounts of water. You want a lazy dropping consistency so you can drizzle over the cookies.
  • Decorate biscuits as you like! 

Monday, 17 October 2011

Chocolate Enrobed Florentines

It's cloudy outside today and there's a bit of a nip in the wind.  I adore the approaching thunder storm, that's one thing Africa knows how to do perfectly! 

Mama's garden
The rumble of thunder making it's way over the fields is another memory I hold dear.  Sitting on the farm veranda under the fiber glass awning, smelling the approaching rain.  The world becomes quiet and almost holds it's breath as it waits for the anointing fresh rain.

Mama would be down by the roses measuring out natural fertilizer to feed the greedy roses, which they would drink up to ensure a flush of magnificent blooms in time for Christmas.  I would call out to her warning her the rain was coming and urging her to come away from the growling thunder.  Only when the first splatters of rain placed diamond droplets in her hair did she come in and we would watch the magic of an African thunder storm.

Once the rain had gone as quickly as it had arrived, sunbeams would burst from the clouds and the garden would come alive.  Birds would be fluttering around drying in the warm sun and the beetles would start their tremendous cacophony.  Anyone born in Rhodesia would know the sound of Christmas beetles - they are almost deafening!  They always arrived around November and would carol us into the Christmas season. 

Mama always made her Christmas cakes in the first week of November.  I have the ingredients ready and waiting in my pantry.  Just waiting till I can turn the calender page over as if an unwritten rule gives me the thumbs up to make the Christmas cake. 

The preparation for Christmas was filled with nutmeg smells and cinnamon flavours.  Mama's Christmas list included buttery mince pies, all spice biscuits in angel shapes, mulled wine and Chrismassy Florentines, just to name a few.  Tradition is tradition and Mama never faltered in preparing traditional Christmas eats and treats to hand out as gifts.
The next few blogs will be dedicated to the experience of Christmas in our Geddes farm house... First up, here is Mama's Christmassy chocolate-enrobed Florentines.

What you need:
  • 40 grams butter
  • 100 grams caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 100 mls cream
  • 150 grams mixed dried fruit and nuts.  Mama used flaked almonds, glace cherries, dried apricots and glace pineapple. Chop the fruit up into tiny bits.
  • 30 grams of dark chocolate
  • 30 grams milk chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon all spice
How to make:
  • Melt the butter and sugar in a pan until a golden brown colour
  • Add in the flour, spice, dried fruit & nut mix and add the cream - mix well
  • Grease a muffin pan, use a teaspoon to measure out the correct amount per round. Pat down to flatten
  • Bake for 15 minutes on 180 degrees, until golden brown
  • Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning out of the muffin pan
  • Melt the chocolate and dip one half of the Florentine in the dark chocolate and allow to set, then dip the other half in the other chocolate.
  • All I can say is YUM!!!! 
  • Great to give as a gift too!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sip...not slurp

Mama and her Mother
Mama was 18 when she was sent to "Finishing School" in Switzerland. Off she went with one suitcase, by boat and then by a very long train journey to live in a strange country for one year to learn poise and elegance where young women were given a more "complete" education.

Can you imagine a time when young women were sent to learn a variety of social and etiquette skills all for the hopes of attracting and keeping a husband?  Such activities I would most probably find trivial and annoying these days. But to be absolutely honest, it does sound so very quaint and ladylike does it not?

On the days when I was asked to polish the silver, Mama would teach me the difference between a fish knife and a salad fork or which glasses you must use for red wine or which one to serve an aperitif from.  She spent ages trying to teach me to fold a starched napkin into a lotus flower, something I still can not master or see the point of... 

I learnt to use the side plate to your left and to use the butter knife to cut your bread into dainty bite size pieces. I learnt how to sip soup from the side of the spoon and not to slurp or to put the whole spoon in your gob! She was ever to patient with me and I often reminisce of the grace of meals served at a beautifully set table. 

My drawers (not the knicker ones) are full of mismatched cutlery of stainless steel.  My family eats dinner from laps most evenings and I don't think I own a fish knife of any sort. Although I do know which wine glass to use for red or white wine...I normally grab the one that has the most capacity.

So in honour of sipping... and not slurping - here is Mama's roasted vegetable soup with home-made croutons.

What you need:
  • one cup of each vegetable cut into chunks (choose as you like)
    • carrots
    • potato
    • parsnips
    • butternut
    • onion
  • A little oil
  • 1 litre chicken stock - or stock of your choosing
  • 500 mls cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Stale bread - sourdough works great
  • Knob of butter
  • Parmesan cheese - grated
  • Handful fresh chopped parsley
How to make:
  • In a large roasting dish - rub some oil and a good bit of S&P over the veggies
  • Roast in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 30 minutes or until the veggies are golden and crisp on the edges.  Allow to cool a bit - but don't turn off your oven.
  • Blitz the roasted veggies in a processor until smooth - add a bit of your stock to loosen up.
  • Pour into a large pot and add in your remaining stock and allow to simmer slowly on the stove top whilst you prepare your croutons.
  • In the same roasting dish you used for the veggies, break chunks of bread into bite size pieces.
  • Sprinkle over a little oil and dot butter all over the pan.  Sprinkle with some S&P and the Parmesan cheese.  Bake in still hot oven till golden and crispy - toss occasionally.
  • Whilst the croutons are crisping, pour the cream into your vegetable/stock mix - check your seasoning and heat through.
  • Pour into pre-heated soup bowls and arrange the crispy croutons on the top.
  • Sprinkle with fresh parsley and YUM!